The flower she is named for, creamy white petals and center glowing gold, is plucked and plucked and plucked for love. It is a cruel name to give a girl whose eyes are fixed on the horizon, but then, what name wasn’t, in those days? What name would have been more fitting for the child reared beneath hothouse lights, cultivated in thick, rich soil, grown entire for the plucking? She thinks she would have preferred gardenia, but it’s not as thought it would be fit to mention it. It’s not as though anyone would think to ask.
He loves me, he loves me not; he loves me, he loves me not; he loves me, he loves me not; he loves me. Of course, for Daisy Buchanan, it’s not as though love was the problem.
Tom, Daisy knows, thinks her silly; she marries him anyway, because it’s not as though she has any choice. Would that she could leave him for a man that thought her perfect—it’s not, of course, that he was correct, but there’s no one these days that won’t borrow a dream. James Gatz haunts Daisy’s wedding day, in expectation if not in fact. Everyone wants something, always; everyone but Daisy gets what they want.
She is silly, of course. Of course she is silly. She is silly and she is shallow and she is shining, but only in the right light. Drench her in pearls and call her Madonna; dress her in red and call her a whore. In her mother’s eyes, she knows, she was a canvas. Funny, the things that stick with us. Funny, the rules we can’t quite shake.
Given a paintbrush, a train ticket, a billfold, a chance, Daisy could be anyone you liked. Given a saddle, a spur, a bridle, a mane, Daisy could be led to water. Given an option, an exit, a choice—ah, no. It doesn’t become us, now does it, to traffic in uncomfortable lies.
It is a lavish party, because it is always a lavish party, and Jordan Baker has hands like spider’s webs. Her fingers, long and tapered, feed to veins laced gossamer-thin; there is a callous between her thumb and forefinger, ugly like her laughter and the hard light in her eyes. Daisy stares at her in fascination until Tom is forced to clear his throat—let him, then. Would that Daisy could carry off that sort of hideous beauty. Would that Daisy were allowed.
“You know, darling,” Tom says, calm like gunfire, endearment lancing like a spear over the low hum of the dashboard, “it does embarrass me, when you behave as though I am not in the room.”
“Ah,” says Daisy. “Perhaps, then, you should consider keeping better company.”
He raises a hand to her that night, broad palms and clipped blows, and there is nothing ugly about his face. Daisy presses her cheek hot against the cool surface of her pillow, and wonders what sort of people they must be, to paint on their merits, to keep their callouses to themselves.
James Gatz returns, and tells her to call him Jay Gatsby; James Gatz returns, and does not want to talk about the war. James Gatz returns, and Jay Gatsby is a criminal—Daisy might be silly, but she is too well-bred for stupidity. He owns a thousands shirts, but none of them wear well. He rounds out a thousand vowels, and never sounds like himself.
I did it all for you, he says, and does not say. I did not expect you to change, he says, and does not say. I looked at you when we were still young and believed in things I only ever claimed you to be; you have betrayed me, but I shall forgive you; you owe me your love, and I have come to collect.
Daisy does not tell him the truth. She does not tell him it is not Tom he loathes. It is the air in her lungs and the salt on her skin; it is the purpled skin above her abdomen, forever marked in a stretch; it is her that Gatsby loathes, for daring to live on, for daring to be mortal. It is not as though she could help it, but she does not tell him that, either. She smiles at his pretty shirts, his pretty house, his pretty, pretty life. It is what she is good at, after all. It is her lot in this world.
“Momma,” Pammy says, and it has been years and years, but no time at all. She is so young, and so verbal; she is so smart, Tom’s daughter. Daisy is sorry—Daisy would have preferred she were a fool.
“Yes, precious?” Daisy says, and they are James Gatz’s vowels, just this once. Everything is lost, now. Everything has always been lost. Tom has a pistol in the bedroom and six paintings left to sell, and the market will not recover. Daisy is silly, but economy is simple: there is supply, and there is demand. There is wanting, and there is having. There is never enough money.
“What will happen to us?” Pammy says, and it has been years and years, but no time at all. Daisy’s eyes meet her daughter’s in the mirror, and she is glad, after all, that the poor thing is not a fool. There are few days left to play at fancy. There are few days left to borrow dreams.
“Something,” Daisy says, and Pammy’s eyes are awash with hard light. Daisy closes her mouth, and hopes (hopes, hopes) she grows up ugly.